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Welfare State - Future Prospects

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During the era when welfare-state programs were expanding, the emphasis was on the politics of ‘‘credit taking.’’ However, as we look to the future the focus is likely to be on further welfare-state retrenchment, which will in large measure be an exercise in ‘‘blame avoidance.’’ To this end we should expect legislation that phases in further benefit cuts and tax increases gradually. It is likely that the trend to make benefits, particularly pension benefits, correspond more closely to actual payroll contributions made is likely to continue and with it a corresponding weakening of provisions calling for redistribution.

Current trends suggest that the goal of a highly developed cradle to grave welfare state may be an idea whose time has passed. The era of generous and ever-increasing public commitment to social welfare programs aimed at the working class, the middle class, and the poor may be ebbing. The current trend is clearly toward individual provision and the privatization of what had for many years been government funded welfare-state programs. However, the tide may change yet again when we next experience a prolonged period of economic contraction. At that point the limits of individual provision and privatization may become more evident; we may see a swing back in the direction of public provision and possibly a renewed interest in welfare-state programs and the philosophy that under-girds such programs.



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